Archive for the ‘Quotes’ Category


Wednesday’s Words of Worry

Wednesday, 11 June, 2008

Today’s Words are from none other than the Catholic Church. Well, written by some members of the International Theological Commission and approved for publication by Cardinal Ratzinger (who is now Pope Benedict XVI).

“Enhancement genetic engineering aims at improving certain specific characteristics. The idea of man as “co-creator” with God could be used to try to justify the management of human evolution by means of such genetic engineering. But this would imply that man has full right of disposal over his own biological nature. Changing the genetic identity of man as a human person through the production of an infrahuman being is radically immoral. The use of genetic modification to yield a superhuman or being with essentially new spiritual faculties is unthinkable, given that the spiritual life principle of man – forming the matter into the body of the human person – is not a product of human hands and is not subject to genetic engineering. The uniqueness of each human person, in part constituted by his biogenetic characteristics and developed through nurture and growth, belongs intrinsically to him and cannot be instrumentalized in order to improve some of these characteristics. A man can only truly improve by realizing more fully the image of God in him by uniting himself to Christ and in imitation of him. Such modifications would in any case violate the freedom of future persons who had no part in decisions that determine his bodily structure and characteristics in a significant and possibly irreversible way.” – International Theological Commission, Communion and Stewardship: Human Persons Created in the Image of God (2004), paragraph 91


Oh, must have fallen asleep. I’m now so tired I can’t even be bothered responding to that mumbo-jumbo.


Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, 4 June, 2008

Today’s Words come from Sir Julian Huxley, English evolutionary biologist and author. He is perhaps notable for being the brother of Aldous Huxley, who authored Brave New World (1932) and thereby created one of the most used resources against transhumanism (however all those critics should go read Aldous Huxley’s later work, Island (1962), before they start rubbishing technology).

Julian Huxley was also he who coined the word ‘transhumanism’, and the coining of that word follows:

“The human species can, if it wishes, transcend itself —not just sporadically, an individual here in one way, an individual there in another way, but in its entirety, as humanity. We need a name for this new belief. Perhaps transhumanism will serve: man remaining man, but trans­cending himself, by realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature.” – “Transhumanism” in New Bottles for New Wine (1957) p. 17

I especially like the phrase “man remaining man, but […] realizing new possibilities of and for his human nature”. It has a nice emphasis on the fact that humans/posthumans/transhumans, even with many modifications, will still be human in at least one sense of the word.


Wednesday’s Words of Worry

Wednesday, 28 May, 2008

Some classic words this week from Paul Ramsey, who is often quoted in theological bioethics. He famously writes:

“Men ought not to play God before they learn to be men, and after they learn to be men they will not play God” — Paul Ramsey, Fabricated Man: The Ethics of Genetic Control (New Haven: Yale, 1970), p138.

This, of course, requires us to view playing God as wrong. In fact, it also requires us to believe in a God at all. To illustrate this last point, why don’t I quote a fellow atheist on this topic:

“If we don’t play God, who will?” – James Watson

The theological interpretations of “playin’ God” are too numerous to go into here (although I would like to point out that some translations of Ephesians 5:1 command that humans “imitate God”), and it is sufficient to realise that a legal restriction on such technologies for such a theological reason would likely violate the church-state separation which is fortunately present in the constitution of most Western nations.


Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, 21 May, 2008

Today’s words are chosen only because they are recent, and make perfect sense. I’m quite sure that such ideas have been expressed before, but nonetheless I am quoting these (mostly because I can’t be bothered looking for others):

“Athletes are already posthuman cyborgs and we celebrate this. It is likely that greater use of this technology will seep into other aspects of culture, as we begin to embrace more and more enhancements. Sports might soon become peculiar for resisting such developments and, in the meantime, will be placing athletes at greater risk by forcing them to enhance behind closed doors.” – Andy Miah, “Engineering Athletes, The Sun News (Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA), 18 May 2008

Makes perfect sense to me. Although, I am concerned that an enhancement ban in sports, which would naturally be followed by a strong anti-enhancement campaign to discourage illicit use of such technologies, would result in an anti-enhancement attitude in the general public. Such an attitude is already prevalent concerning steroids, where parents are wary their children being prescribed corticosteroids because of warnings about anabolic steroid usage (despite the fact they are different steroids). And there would be no ‘legitimate medical use’ claim to fall back on (except perhaps if gene-doping campaigns were affecting gene-therapy acceptance).

Sport is a necessary area for performance-enhancements to be developed, tested and accepted.


Wednesday’s Words of Worry

Wednesday, 14 May, 2008

Getting back to oft-used quotes in the human enhancement debate, this week it comes from Francis Fukuyama, in his book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (2002). But in actuality it is a paraphrase so I must begin with another quote:

“The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.” – Thomas Jefferson, as quoted in Fukuyama (2002) Our Posthuman Future

Now, Fukuyama writes:

The political equality enshrined in the Deceleration of Independence rests on the empirical fact of natural human equality. We vary greatly as individuals and by culture, but we share a common humanity that allows every human being to potentially communicate with and enter into a moral relationship with every other human being on the planet. The ultimate question raised by biotechnology is, What will happen to political human rights once we are able to, in effect, breed some people with saddles on their backs, and others with boots and spurs?

Now, the answers to this are two-fold:

Firstly, Jefferson was attacking an argument based on the fallacy of ‘appeal to nature’ – that what is natural (created by God, in this case) is good – by destroying the premise that some were naturally ‘born with saddles’. He could have easily argued that even if some humans were ‘born with saddles’, that doesn’t mean they should be treated any worse than everyone else. And we already have animal rights people telling us that ‘exploiting’ horses by riding them is wrong, and that we certainly should not be using spurs (the latter argument I agree with, but the former is misguided). So I don’t see any sensible argument by which people would be able to argue that because they have been endowed with better genes (whether by God, luck or their parent’s choices as the fertility clinic), they are morally entitled to superior treatment than those without such genes.

Secondly, as Jonathan Glover points out on pages 83-85 of his book Choosing Children: The Ethical Dilemmas of Genetic Intervention (2006), Fukuyama hasn’t given us evidence that biotechnology would destroy the characteristics that define our ‘common humanity’. How are we to know that, after the biotechnology revolution has begun, we could not still say that all the ‘enhanced’ are still people and are born equal like the rest of us? After all, Fukuyama acknowledges that our current differences in genes don’t upset our political equality, so why would more genetics differences be worse? Just expand your criteria for ‘common humanity’ until you feel better.


Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, 7 May, 2008

This weeks wisdom, though limited, is nonetheless refreshing. It comes from the May 5 issue of ESPN magazine, from an article titled “Let ‘Em Play“. It about prosthetics and bionics in sport, and the author, Eric Adelson, makes a good point for regulatory acceptance of these technologies:

The bottom line is this: Sports do not need knee-jerk segregation, they need rational and fair regulation. Every organized sport begins the same way, with the creation of rules. We then establish technological limits, as with horsepower in auto racing, stick curvature in hockey, bike weight in cycling. As sports progress, those rules are sometimes altered. The USGA, for instance, responded to advances in club technology by legalizing metal heads in the early ’80s. In Chariots of Fire, the hero comes under heavy scrutiny for using his era’s version of steroids: a coach, at a time when the sport frowned upon outside assistance. So if we can adjust rules of sports to the time, why not for prosthetics?

Very good. A nice first step, and it is good that a magazine like ESPN is getting some bioethics in amongst their pages. The article does come off a little too much in favour of restorative bionics rather than enhancement bionics, but nonetheless the day will come when Paralympians will run faster, throw farther and shoot more accurately than Olympians, thanks to their prosthetic legs, cyborg arms and bionic eyes.


Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom

Wednesday, 30 April, 2008

Today’s Words are in Latin, truly the wisest-sounding language of them all. These words are attributed to the the Roman philosopher Seneca (the Younger)

“Nemo liber est qui corpori servit” (No one is free who is a slave to his body)

Although it is likely Seneca was using these words to admonish those hedonists who let their bodily urges control them, these words are nonetheless a strong statement for bodily autonomy/morphological freedom.

Our rights to freedom and autonomy should extend to our own bodies and DNA. If a person wants to go for a run, we let them because they have the right to freely do that. So, if a person wants to have cyborg legs in order to allow them to run faster or wants to insert a few genes into their muscles so that they can run faster, they should be allowed to do that too.

It’s my body, my brain and my genome. To forbid me from changing those characteristics is violating my right to liberty.